Factories, Farms, and Funhouses: Regionalist Paintings by Carl Gaertner

August 2, 2003 - October 26, 2003
Isroff Gallery

In his moody, romantic paintings, Cleveland artist Carl Gaertner (1898-1952) captured the varied beauty of the American landscape. Yet at the same time, his works express the feeling of alienation experienced by many during the years between the two world wars. His views of rustic farms, historic beach resorts, and sprawling factories earned him a national reputation, and his paintings were purchased by museums and private collectors throughout the United States.

This exhibition features paintings from the Cleveland-area collections of Joseph Erdelac and Carol and Michael Sherwin. Erdelac has devoted more than forty years to building his outstanding collection of regional art. The Sherwins are committed to preserving Gaertner's legacy because of their lifelong friendship with Fred Gaertner, one of the artist's sons.

The Cleveland art community in which Gaertner came of age touted modern European styles such as cubism and expressionism, but its artists were dedicated to painting local subjects. Gaertner’s teachers at the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Art Institute) encouraged him to focus on industrial scenes highlighting the region’s rapidly expanding steel economy. In the 1920s, he created dramatic images of mills and factories, which he painted with daring brushwork and strong color contrasts. He highlighted the psychological effects of these industrial spaces by positioning human figures so that they appear to be overwhelmed by the cast structures around them.

During the 1930s and 1940s, war and the Great Depression curtailed travel to Europe for most American artists, including Gaertner. When he had time off from his teaching position at the Cleveland School of Art, he painted at this secluded home in Willoughby and took painting trips to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Provincetown, Massachusetts. He traveled frequently by train to New York to deliver paintings to William Macbeth, the famed Manhattan art dealer. On each of these trips, Gaertner made dozens of sketches of the rural vistas that rushed past the train’s windows.

During his sojourn through the American countryside, Gaertner created poetic images of beaches, hillsides, and farmland. His rich palette and scratchy, expressive brushstrokes emphasize the diverse colors and textures of the landscape, while his lonely figures and stormy skies reflect feelings of isolation and anxiety experienced by many Americans. In this particularly challenging period in American history, Gaertner discovered in the nation’s landscape a source of both inspiration and solace.

This exhibition was organized by the Akron Art Museum and was made possible through a generous contribution from Ed Russell.